I was running out of teaching ideas last summer when I found a link in an email message from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for Bird Quest. It was exactly what I needed to finish the long school year with my students. The six challenges didn’t require a ton of supplies, they were all adaptable, and the download was free.
Challenge 1: Meet eBird
This challenge gives students a chance to register for an eBird account. I decided that I did not want to go that route with my students. Starting online accounts with students can be tricky. Instead, I created an eBird scavenger hunt that allowed my students to explore the site with some guidance. Also, it was a fun strategy for teaching students how to use the internet for research without overwhelming them. They enjoyed learning how to read the different charts and having choices about what they were searching for.
Download my scavenger hunt by clicking on the link: ebirdscavengerhunt.
Challenge 2: What is your state bird?
If your students don’t know their state bird, this challenge will get them researching and looking outside.
What I found out very quickly is that my students do know Nevada’s state bird, the mountain bluebird. Most students were confident that they wouldn’t see one outside. But how did they know that for sure? I asked my students to research the mountain bluebird and provide evidence describing why it was unlikely we would see the bird anywhere near the school.
The kids really stepped up. They began analyzing land elevations, migration patterns, regional temperatures, and environmental conditions required for the mountain bluebird’s habitat. They figured out why it was unlikely we would see the state bird in the schoolyard…and we didn’t. Although sometimes weird things happen, and you never know, one day a little mountain bluebird may make a detour in our direction and give us all a surprise.
Challenge 3: Bird Types
This challenge asks students to study the silhouettes of common bird types. Then, they go outside and try to find birds that match some of the silhouettes in the booklet. This activity helped my students, and myself, build confidence in our abilities to identify birds. Even though we may not have been able to determine the species, knowing the type of bird helped us understand the diversity that we were finding in the schoolyard.
Challenge 4: Do a 7-minute eBird Count
This activity challenges students to do an official bird count and report their data to eBird. I was intimidated by this activity and decided to supplement it with the Celebrate Urban Birds citizen science project. This project narrows down the search to sixteen birds. My students only needed to look for and identify birds like the house finch, rock pigeon, mourning dove, and killdeer. However, we still took note of other birds we observed in the schoolyard. This proved to be an efficient way to introduce students to birding, taking data, and submitting data.
Tip: I printed out multiple copies of the Celebrate Urban Birds focal birds tally sheet. Then, I put them into plastic sheet covers. Students in charge of tallying for their groups took erasable markers outside with them to record the day’s observations. The tallies can be erased and the tally sheets can be reused for future birding activities.
Instead of having multiple student accounts with Celebrate Urban Birds, I had the kids enter their data using my account.
Challenge 5: Search for your local species in eBird
In this challenge, students determine the types of birds that can be found in their area during the winter and the summer. Even though my students did similar activities in the scavenger hunt, they were able to practice their research skills with this activity. In order to do this activity, students must learn how to read a specialized bar chart that signals how likely birds will be found in specific areas during each month of the year.
Challenge 6: Habitat Improvement
This challenge was the most fun. I checked out a bunch of books from the local library with ideas for creating bird feeders and bird houses. Then, I let my students work in groups to find and develop projects to make our schoolyard a friendlier habitat for birds. Their projects had to provide food, water, or shelter. Also, their projects had to be low cost with an emphasis on repurposing materials.
After we put out the feeders, water features, and shelters, the birds did come. It was exciting to see the birds using the projects my students created. They even attracted quail when one of the water features fell and provided a water source on the ground. With this project, students have an impact on their immediate environment and can learn from it. This is the best part of citizen science and Bird Quest.
The Bird Quest booklet has changed the course of my teaching. I am finding more opportunities for my students to go outside and search for birds. The kids are continuing to hone their bird identification skills and are contributing their data as citizen scientists. In the spring, we are going to delve into the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Habitat Connections unit. This next adventure will get the kids outdoors, mapping, writing, observing, and moving to learn.